Author: Cory Doctorow
Genre: AWESOME, YA, dystopia, social commentary, coming of age, cyberpunk, contemporary
Publication Date: February 5, 2013 (Tor Teen/Macmillan – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided finished copy
Summary: In Cory Doctorow’s wildly successful Little Brother, young Marcus Yallow was arbitrarily detained and brutalized by the government in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco—an experience that led him to become a leader of the whole movement of technologically clued-in teenagers, fighting back against the tyrannical security state.
A few years later, California’s economy collapses, but Marcus’s hacktivist past lands him a job as webmaster for a crusading politician who promises reform. Soon his onetime girlfriend Masha emerges from the political underground to gift him with a thumbdrive containing a Wikileaks-style cable-dump of hard evidence of corporate and governmental perfidy. It’s incendiary stuff—and if Masha goes missing, Marcus is supposed to release it to the world. Then Marcus sees Masha being kidnapped by the same government agents who detained and tortured Marcus years earlier.
Marcus can leak the archive Masha gave him—but he can’t admit to being the leaker, because that will cost his employer the election. He’s surrounded by friends who remember what he did a few years ago and regard him as a hacker hero. He can’t even attend a demonstration without being dragged onstage and handed a mike. He’s not at all sure that just dumping the archive onto the Internet, before he’s gone through its millions of words, is the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, people are beginning to shadow him, people who look like they’re used to inflicting pain until they get the answers they want.
Fast-moving, passionate, and as current as next week, Homeland is every bit the equal of Little Brother—a paean to activism, to courage, to the drive to make the world a better place
☆: 4.5/5 stars – an absolute MUST READ for everyone who cares about online rights and privacy!
Review: I didn’t think Doctorow could top himself in terms of perfectly blending social commentary with important issues that more YA readers should be looking at with “Pirate Cinema”, but I was wrong. “Homeland”, the follow up to the 2008 release, “Little Brother”, absolutely blows everything else out of the water. And yes, while he gets a bit didactic in this and his other works, it’s stuff we need to be reading. It’s stuff that’s firmly rooted in reality that is absolutely frightening, and something that needs our attention. So much so that Jacob Appelbaum from Wikileaks and the dearly departed Aaron Swartz did afterwords. If that doesn’t get your attention about activism and rights, I don’t know what will.
Since the technical areas of this book are more or less flawless (though I took off some points for didactics when it came to certain things like 3D printers, which kind of slowed things down in some areas), I won’t be talking about them. Instead, I’ll be talking about why this book matters so very much to us right now as a society, and why YA readers, regardless of age, should be paying attention.
You may or may not have heard about the story of Aaron Swartz. For the sake of brevity, I won’t be telling his story here – just check out his wiki page for more information. But much like Doctorow’s fictitious main character Marcus, he was prosecuted, to be made an example of for his online activism about privacy, piracy, and beliefs about an open, transparent internet by the government and other entities. To the point where he became so depressed that he hung himself earlier this year – January 2013. While Marcus never goes that route, the depression of being hounded by the very people we put into office and are supposed to trust is no less than haunting. I had no idea Swartz was going to be writing one of the two afterwords, and reading it now, a month after his death, actually brought tears to my eyes. When we lose people like Swartz, we lose a lot. We lose bravery. We lose so much more than just one life.
To say this is a paranoid book is an understatement. It will teach you how to make a darknet, how to encrypt your files, and how to cover your ass when it comes to your own privacy and online rights. But it’s a paranoid book we desperately need. And while a lot of “Little Brother” and “Homeland” are very, very exaggerated, if you do your research after reading, you’ll find that some of it isn’t so far off. Swartz’s death just brings home that fact all the harder. It will make you pay attention, and want to do something. If there’s anything to be said about Doctorow’s books, it’s the way he writes, the way he prods at you, making you want to do something, to help in the cause. Some people feel that this is too much sociopolitical commentary for the YA market, and I can see why they’d say that. But at the same time, it’s the kick in our asses that we really need.
But this book is also full of hope. Hope that we’re still able to stop in our tracks, turn around, and demand change. Demand what’s ours, what’s been taken away from us, what needs to be restored. Any and all of the above, Doctorow makes you want to get up, get angry, and do something. Whatever your cause may be, this book urges you to take up the fight. Don’t be passive. Do something. Because in the end, that’s how things get accomplished these days – you have to be the squeaky, annoying, loud wheel in order to get the grease. This book asks a lot of us – to have faith. That using our hope will make things change. And that’s the hardest thing of all to do (if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be called faith, right?).
So, final verdict? This book is very dear to me, and I hope it finds a place in must-read YA fame. Enough with the paranormal romance. Enough with the love triangles. This is a book that truly matters. Pick it up, read it, and pass it along to someone you know. “Homeland” is out now from Tor Teen/Macmillan in North America, so be sure to check it out once you get the chance.